Saturday, September 22, 2018

Amsterdam! Part I!

An opportunity to visit Amsterdam with my son popped up this past summer, and I leaped at it! The chance to go on an adventure with my son to a brand-new (to us) place? I couldn't afford to miss it! A part of me still hardly believes we went because going to the Netherlands is something I never thought I'd get to do.

I shouldn't be surprised, though. Know why? The first two reports I ever wrote, wa-a-ay back in elementary school, were on:

1. squirrels
2. Amsterdam

I had seen squirrels (as my long-time blog friends know). It was high time I saw Amsterdam!



But while I'd written a report when I was about seven (that I'm sure was quite riveting), I wanted to learn more about Amsterdam (or Amsterdarn, for those of you who are goody two shoes).

So I bought a book.

Russell Shorto's Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City is an excellent book! I highly recommend it, whether you're going to visit Amsterdam, have gone already, or would just like to learn about an incredible place with a history of tolerance, radicalism, and a lot of water. It's both entertaining and fascinating. I started reading it on my trip, and it made my experiences there richer. While I'd previously learned snippets of facts, like about the Dutch in New York and John Adams in the Netherlands, I had no idea that so many United States places and institutions (for example, the stock market) had roots in Amsterdam.

Shorto is a talented storyteller. I love this book so much that I've been recommending it to family and friends, and I even bought a second copy to give as a gift.

Another book choice I made because of our trip: Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.

I read it when I was a kid, probably close to the age Anne Frank was when she started her journal, but I'm rereading it. After seeing where she and her family hid during World War II, I want to reread her thoughts and experiences. It's so tragic, so haunting, and so heartbreaking. It's something that must never be forgotten. Not ever.

I'll end here for now. Next time I'll post more of the photos my son and I took on our trip!

Have you been to Amsterdam? What nonfiction books have you read because of places you've traveled or would like to visit?

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Hip hip hooray! Exciting news for Faith Pray!

Faith Pray's gorgeous words and art will be brightening the world when she debuts as an author-illustrator! Faith is a dear friend, and I am so thrilled for her! She's inspiring, hard working, and one of the sweetest people I know. Her writing is beautiful, poetic, and full of heart, and I adore her illustrations. I can't wait to hold her picture book, The Girl and the Star, in my hot little hands!

Congratulations, Faith! Keep shining, sweet friend! 

*Just in case you are not a teeny-tiny mouse with teeny-tiny mouse vision, I'll write what the announcement says in a larger font size:

"Maria Modugno at Random House has preempted The Girl and the Star, Faith Pray's debut as an author-illustrator. In the picture book, a girl makes a wish that she'll find a way to change the world around her, and a lost star helps her find the way to do so. Publication is set for summer 2020; Molly O'Neill at Root Literary negotiated the deal for world English rights."

Sunday, April 15, 2018


Here's the buzz: TURN THIS BOOK INTO A BEEHIVE! is the bee's knees!

written by Lynn Brunelle and illustrated by Anna-Maria Jung
Workman Publishing
pub date: April 3, 2018

Eagle Harbor Book Company hosted a fun event for Lynn last Friday. I went, bought my very own copy of TURN THIS BOOK INTO A BEEHIVE!, and had it autographed!

 Lynn and I

This book is fascinating--and super cool! Kids can do experiments and activities while learning about bees. They can even turn parts of the book into a real beehive, encouraging mason bees to move in and pollinate! Yay! That's a huge deal to anyone who likes food. (Yeah, that's all of us.) Pollination leads to the food we eat, whether it's fruit, veggies, grains, or even cheese or meat from grazing animals. Bee populations are dwindling, and mason bees--the bees these hives attract--pollinate way more than honeybees. (Note: mason bees aren't aggressive, and they don't sting!) Helping the bees means helping everyone, so creating more hives is kind of saving the world, right?

This book would be awesome for teachers, parents, or grandparents. Kids of all ages would enjoy it! Lynn is a fabulous writer. She earned four Emmy Awards writing for Bill Nye the Science Guy. Plus she's sooo nice, and she's a friend.

Have fun! Learn! Save the world! Buy the book! :)

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Book chat time!

Bloggy friends, it's time for a book chat! Have some tea and cookies while I tell you about three recent reads that I recommend!

HOUR OF THE BEES by Lindsay Eager is middle-grade awesomeness. The writing is beautiful, and the story is incredibly moving. Something extra wow-worthy? This is Lindsay Eager's first novel!

HOUR OF THE BEES by Lindsay Eager
Candlewick Press
pub date: March 8, 2016

Here's the blurb:

Things are only impossible if you stop to think about them...

While her friends are spending their summers having pool parties and sleepovers, twelve-year-old Carolina--Carol--is spending hers in the middle of the New Mexico desert, helping her parents move the grandfather she's never met into a home for people with dementia. At first, Carol avoids prickly Grandpa Serge. But as the summer wears on and the heat bears down, Carol finds herself drawn to him, fascinated by the crazy stories he tells her about a healing tree, a green-glass lake, and the bees that will bring back the rain and end a hundred years of drought. As the thin line between magic and reality starts to blur, Carol must decide for herself what is possible--and what it means to be true to her roots. Readers who dream that there's something more out there will be enchanted by this captivating novel of family, renewal, and discovering the wonder of the world. 

The characters in HOUR OF THE BEES are wonderfully imperfect and three-dimensional, and they all come together the way family members can in real life: at times flowing together smoothly, and at other times bumping and poking as they move. The setting is written so well it's inspiring, and Grandpa Serge's storytelling is poetic. Carolina's concerns and thoughts about school and friends feel legitimate and well-captured.

I picked up this book while searching for comp titles for my middle-grade novel, PERFECT VISION. My novel has a protagonist whose grandmother has Alzheimer's, and it also has magic. (Most of my stories seem to have a bit of magic!) I wanted to see if HOUR OF THE BEES and PERFECT VISION have much in common.

HELLO, UNIVERSE (or "Hello, Newbery"--Hee-hee!) by Erin Entrada Kelly is another middle-grade novel I highly recommend.

HELLO, UNIVERSE by Erin Entrada Kelly
Greenwillow Books
pub date: March 14, 2017

Here's the blurb from the book's jacket:

Virgil Salinas is shy and misunderstood.

Valencia Somerset is clever and stubborn.

Kaori Tanaka tells fortunes and reads the stars.

Chet "the Bull" Bullens is the biggest bully in the neighborhood.

They aren't friends. They don't all go to the same school. But when Chet pulls an unthinkable prank on Virgil and Virgil's pet guinea pig, Gulliver, the lives of these four middle schoolers collide in surprising and unexpected ways. 

Just a coincidence?

Or are some things meant to be?

HELLO, UNIVERSE is a fun and truly lovely story that touches on differences, bravery, and friendship. It is told through multiple points of view, and I think the story is richer because of this. The characters are delightful. Virgil's grandmother--his Lola--is one of my favorite characters in the book. (And did you know I adore guinea pigs? My daughter used to show them in 4-H!) I loved reading this story as an adult, and I'm 100% certain I would have loved reading this as a kid, too.

I chose to read HELLO, UNIVERSE because it won the Newbery. The way I would describe what I write is "humor with heart"--and it's often what I like to read as well. HELLO, UNIVERSE is funny, and it has oodles of heart, so I thoroughly enjoyed it.

GENUINE FRAUD by E. Lockhart is a young-adult novel that's completely different from the other two titles I shared.

GENUINE FRAUD by E. Lockhart
Delacorte Press
pub date: September 5, 2017

The blurb:

Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat.
Jule is a fighter, a social chameleon, and an athlete.
An intense friendship.
A bad romance, or maybe three.
Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies, and villains.
A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her.
A girl who refuses to be the person she once was.

I hate spoilers, so I don't want to say too much. This book is a page-turner--intriguing, expertly plotted, and so very unique. The characters are well-written, and you'll most likely want to discuss it with someone else who has read it as soon as you finish the book!

The reason I bought GENUINE FRAUD is the author. As many of you may remember, I am a huge E. Lockhart fan. I've heard Emily Jenkins/E. Lockhart (yes, same person) speak a couple of times, and she knows her stuff. She's a super-talented writer, a stylist and an amazing plotter. It will be interesting to see what she writes next!

Now it's your turn! What have you been reading that you'd like to recommend? Tell me, tell me, tell me while I sip my tea!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

I'm a finalist!

I'm a finalist in the 2018 San Francisco Writing Contest!

My middle-grade novel PERFECT VISION had been a finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest in the young-adult category. Following the advice of an agent, I rewrote it as middle-grade. Now I'm crossing fingers!

Monday, January 29, 2018

London! Part 2!

We saw Stonehenge,

the white cliffs of Dover,

and Warner Bros. Studio London!


It was magical! I even flew a broom, Harry Potter-style! Squee!

Here are some pics from our visit! Again, please forgive the surplus of exclamation points. I'm sure you understand because, you know, Harry Potter!! Eeeeee!!

The Great Hall

Harry's cupboard - Oh. Em. Gee.

Outside Dumbledore's office

Inside Dumbledore's office - Sh-hh! The portraits are sleeping!

The clock in the clock tower - It really moves!

Potions in the dungeon

Quidditch, anyone?

Portrait of the fat lady

Jim and the Hogwarts Express - We went inside the train, too!

Privet Drive - We were able to walk through the Dursley's house!

Wizards' chess piece

The Monster Book of Monsters - I think they keep it in a glass case so tourists don't get attacked.

Ollivanders - Makers of Fine Wands since 382 B.C.


Flourish & Blotts

It's such a great tour! We had a blast! When we were eating lunch, I saw a bit of snow falling outside and thought it was snowing. It was actually fake snow, but how fun is it that the first snow I saw in London was Harry Potter snow?! I saw the real stuff a few days later.

Out on the Muggle-filled streets of London, I could see threads of Harry Potter's world--or some of what may have planted seeds for the brilliant J.K. Rowling. Of course, I'm guessing. (I hear she drew oodles of inspiration from Edinburgh.)

Doesn't this building in London remind you of Gringotts?

Look at some of the candy at Fortnum & Mason! It's wizard-worthy!
(Note: Fortnum & Mason was established in 1707! Seriously!)

Heathrow Express/Hogwarts Express?

And hello? Real castles!

Here are some pics of Windsor Castle, which I was so eager to see! It did not disappoint me!

Bath is a beautiful spot, though we were only there for a couple of hours.
While there, we toured Roman baths! Someday I hope to return to Bath to see where Jane Austen lived and to explore some of the places that inspired scenes in her novels. I *heart* Jane Austen!

We visited Canterbury!
My son took this photo. Such a beautiful place!

Canterbury Cathedral

statue of Geoffrey Chaucer, author of The Canterbury Tales

We also toured Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.
I'd love to see one of Shakespeare's plays performed there!

One night, we walked through the rain to see Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre!

It was wonderful! I'd read the novel by Gaston Leroux and seen the movie, but it was incredible to see Phantom of the Opera performed live--and performed by that amazing cast! If it weren't for all the people around us, I'd have lingered in my seat and wept after it ended. It was that moving.

After the show, I thought about story. Story! It's such an important part of what makes us human, and we writers and illustrators--storytellers--try to master it, working, working, working at our craft. (I think it's important to add we're also playing, playing, playing with our craft because so much of the great comes from the play. Yes?)

Think of how story nourishes us and makes life richer. Learning the true stories of England's kings and queens turns seeing their castles and hangouts into meaningful, personal experiences. It's because of the "story" in history! Likewise, in reading and writing fiction, we can find our own connections, our own takeaways, our own truths. Plus, stories--nonfiction and fiction--can be so dang entertaining. Whether it's the true story of a king who had six wives or a pretend story about an eleven-year-old boy who discovers he's a wizard, it's a personal experience, being able to step into their worlds.

Speaking of being able to step into someone's world...I still haven't received my wedding invitation from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. I do hope it comes! I want to go back to London!

Your turn: Where was your dream vacation? If you have not yet taken it, where do you think or hope it will be?

Saturday, January 13, 2018

London! Part 1!

(Warning: This post will contain way too many exclamation points. Proceed with caution.)

About a year ago, we started planning a trip to London! My husband had been there before, but our two kids and I had not. We were psyched! It was great, having a whole year to look forward to it! It felt unreal to me, that we were going.

December finally came, and off we went! We spent Christmas there. It was A-MAZ-ING.

This was the view from our room.

The Admiralty Arch was right near our hotel. Bloggy friends, there was so much visible history, smack in front of our faces. I couldn't get over it.

After we arrived and had lunch at a pub, my husband and I took a walk and ended up at Buckingham Palace.

There was a throng of people, so we joined them, just for funsies. I was hoping all of the fuss was over Prince Harry, since I'm a fan. I love how he honors his mother by continuing her work, helping raise awareness about AIDS, mental health issues, the need to get rid of landmines, and other causes that were dear to her heart. Plus, he and Meghan Markle are adorbs, and they just seem like extremely good people. Don't they?! Yes, they do.

But back to Buckingham Palace! A man and a woman who were also standing in the crowd said Prince Harry (!) and Meghan Markle were in the cars that had just left! I'm pretty sure it was true because a kid who was about seven told me he saw Harry. So, you know, that's proof.

If you're reading this, Harry and Meghan--er, your Majesties? Your Royal Highnesses?--I'm hoping to be invited to your wedding. No invitation or save-the-date announcement has yet arrived for me, but it's only January and I know you're busy. Just please give me enough time to find a nice dress and some cute shoes that are also comfy, since I'm practical that way--and enough time to research how to properly address each of you, just in case our paths cross on the dance floor or by an ice sculpture or something.

Thank you.

*bowing and now curtsying* Note: I'll also research how to properly walk away after meeting royals such as yourselves on dance floors or by ice sculptures.

This photo of a British squirrel was taken the first morning we were there, mere minutes after the Hyde Park Squirrel Incident. *sigh*

Don't ask. Just. Don't.

The Tower of London!

I think the gift shop there should sell shirts that say, "I lost my head at the Tower of London." Or maybe not. Yeah, never mind. It was a tacky thought, but we'll move away from that since, after all, I'm very classy. So classy, in fact, that I may be going to a very special wedding this spring.

Our kids (who are legal adults and should probably not be called "kids" anymore, but whatever) are better photographers than we are. Way better. This is one of the photos our son took of the Tower Bridge.

One day we watched the Changing of the Guard from various vantage points. Our daughter snapped this photo from a spot near St. James's Palace.

Other pics:

Horse Guards

the ceiling of the Banqueting House, Whitehall

Jim and I on a bus tour

our daughter riding in the open half of the top of the bus - See her wa-a-ay back there?

The Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens - a memorial to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband

I think Victoria is fascinating. I loved all of Kensington Palace, but the "Victoria Revealed" exhibition took my breath away. Here are some pics from Kensington Palace:

Victoria and Albert - Their real-life love story ended way too soon when Albert died at the age of 42. I wish I could go back in time and meet them.

My son took this photo. The plaque says, "24 May 1819    Princess Victoria was born in this room."

On the wall was a quote: "My darling Albert's favorite picture"


Look at this gown from the 18th century. (Again, I'll show my son's photo.)

The information card explained the women at court wore wide petticoats to display their wealth and status. The gown is gorgeous! Still, I wonder if it marks the first time in history when someone asked, "Does this dress make my butt look big?"

We went to Hatchards, London's oldest bookshop. They've been selling books since 1797! It's huge, but it's divided by floors so it feels cozy and lovely. It's a bookshop fit for a king--or a queen, a duke, and a prince!

Check out the Royal Warrants!

Royal Warrant:

Royal Warrants:


I spotted Martha Brockenbrough's excellent novel, THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH, on a shelf!

Harry Potter, of course

part of the children's section - Isn't it wonderful?


There was so much to see! Here's my daughter's first attempt at photographing St. Paul's Cathedral.**

This is her second attempt:

This is getting rather long, so I'll end this post by telling you about the Very Practical Souvenirs I picked up during our trip. I adore them!

Pictured: Magnetic Monarchs (magnets with the kings and queens of England from 1066 through the present day), the Six Wives of Henry VIII  Coaster Set, and a Henry VIII ornament.

**Prince Harry and Meghan, I won't misbehave at your wedding. I promise.